Evolution of Fairy Tales: Beauty and the Beast

Alright! Today we get back to the Evolution of Fairy Tales series with Beauty and the Beast. I’ll compare the traditional 1756 French tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (shortened to Beaumont for time-saving purposes) to the 1991 Disney film.


The Story Begins

Beaumont: Belle is one of three sisters, daughters of a wealthy merchant. Her two older sisters are as beautiful as she is, but they are vain and wicked (sound like anyone we’ve talked about before?). Belle’s father tragically loses his wealth when his ships sink in a storm. He is forced to relocate his family to a cottage in the country to earn a living. No background is given about the Beast, though later versions say he was a prince who was left in the care of a fairy (who turned out to be evil). The fairy tried to seduce him when he became an adult. When he refused her, she turned him into a beast.

Disney: The narrator opens by telling about a selfish prince. A beggar woman comes to the castle, asking for shelter. She offers him a rose in exchange, but the young prince makes fun of her ugliness and turns her away. The woman reveals herself to be an enchantress and curses the prince by transforming him into a beast. She gives him the rose, telling him that if he can find love by the time the last petal falls, the spell will be broken. If he can’t, he will remain a beast forever. Ten years go by, and the focus shifts to Belle, a young girl living with her father in a small French village. Belle is tired of the slow pace of life, longing for adventure. She is alienated by most of the people in town, except for an unwanted suitor who won’t leave her alone.

A Rose for Belle

Beaumont: Belle’s father receives word that one of his ships has arrived in harbor. He hurries to see what wealth he can salvage. Before he leaves, he asks his daughters what to bring them, in case he has money again. The older two ask for jewels and fine clothes. Belle asks for a rose, a flower she hasn’t seen since moving to the country. The merchant arrives to find that only enough cargo has been saved to pay off his existing debt; there is nothing else.

Disney: Belle’s father, an eccentric inventor, is on his way to a fair when he loses his way in the woods. Lost and without a horse, he stumbles upon a seemingly abandoned castle. Animated furniture (and by animated, I mean alive, not just cartoon) serves him, making him comfortable.

Captive in a Castle

Beaumont: On his way home, Belle’s father finds a palace. He stays there for the night, and as he leaves, he sees a beautiful rose garden. He remembers Belle’s request and takes a rose. The Beast confronts him, telling him that because he stole the Beast’s most precious possession, the man must pay a high price. He agrees to let Belle’s father return home to give the rose to Belle if he will return to be the Beast’s prisoner. The merchant returns home with wealth from the Beast, trying not to let his daughters know of his plight. Belle pushes for information and insists on taking his place.

Disney: Belle grows worried when her father’s horse returns without him and she sets out to find him. She arrives at the Beast’s castle and discovers him in a cell, dying of a cold. She frantically offers to take his place and the Beast sends her father away. He has Belle shown to a room and tells her she will be his guest and demands she join him for dinner. They argue, leading Belle to attempt to defy and escape him.


Beaumont: The Beast is polite to Belle from the start, giving her everything she wants. Every night at dinner, he asks Belle to marry him. She always replies no, because she only sees him as a friend. Every night, she dreams of a handsome prince who begs for her to save him.

Disney: Belle slowly comes to realize the Beast is kind, despite his fierce appearance and gruff nature. They spend time together and grow to be friends.

Returning Home

Beaumont: Belle grows homesick and asks to visit home. He agrees, as longs as she returns in one week. She leaves with an enchanted mirror and ring. The mirror will show her what is happening at the castle and the ring, when turned three times around her finger, would transport her back instantly. Belle’s sisters are surprised to see Belle not only alive but better off than they are. After hearing about the ‘savage’ Beast, they decide to delay Belle. They reason that if Belle stays, she can serve them again. If she returns late, the Beast will kill her in a rage.

Disney: Belle grows homesick and the Beast offers to let her use his magic mirror to see how her father is. She sees that he is sick, possibly dying. The Beast urges her to return to him, even though it means losing his only chance at breaking the curse, as the rose has bloomed for the last time. Belle returns to her father, who is being threatened by Belle’s old suitor. She tells the townspeople about the Beast and they decide to hunt him down. Seems reasonable, right?

The Broken Curse

Beaumont: Belle grows guilty, realizing she has stayed away longer than she promised and uses the mirror to check on the Beast. She sees him dying and rushes to his side, using the magic ring. She admits her love for him. As she cries over him, her tears transform him back into the prince he truly is, the prince from Belle’s dreams. They marry and live happily ever after.

Disney: Belle rushes to save the Beast from the crazed mob of Frenchmen, but he is badly injured in the fight. Belle tells him she loves him, breaking the spell. The Beast returns to his human form, along with his staff. He and Belle marry and live happily ever after, the end.

What’s your favorite part of Beauty and the Beast? Mine was always the library that Beast gave Belle in the Disney version.

Until next time, fellow wonderers!

4 thoughts on “Evolution of Fairy Tales: Beauty and the Beast

  1. I know you can’t buy love, but that library comes pretty close! I think this is one time where I’m more than comfortable with Disney shifting the story away from the original tale. Yes, there is beauty in the original tale, but it seems to me that there’s a lot more depth to be found in the Disney version.

  2. Well what writer doesn’t like that library. I personally Loved Robin McKinley’s version of this story Beauty and then she also has Rose Daughter (not so much).

    It’s my favorite fairy tale. I often consider writing my version of it.

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